WINTZENHEIM, FRANCE (AFP) – Nine corpses were found yesterday following a fire at a centre in eastern France where a group of adults with learning disabilities were taking their holidays.
The toll could climb further as authorities initially recorded 11 people missing in the town of Wintzenheim, with French President Emmanuel Macron describing the disaster as a “tragedy”.
The Secretary General of the Haut Rhin prefecture in eastern France, Christophe Marot, said there was “little doubt” the missing had been in the burning building and had not been able to escape.
“We have located nine bodies and we are still looking for two,” Philippe Hauwiller, who is leading the fire brigade search operation, told AFP.
Deputy Mayor Daniel Leroy said earlier three bodies had been found using a drone but others were later found with direct searches and with dogs.
The local fire service told AFP authorities were alerted about the blaze in Wintzenheim at around 6.30am.
“The fire was quickly brought under control despite the intensity of the flames,” the prefecture the Haut-Rhin region said in a statement.
It said 17 people were safely evacuated, with one person hospitalised and another treated for shock.
Those staying at the centre were part of a group of adults who had come from the nearby city of Nancy for the holidays.
“In Wintzenheim, the flames ravaged a lodging which accommodated people with disabilities and their companions. In the face of this tragedy, my thoughts go out to the victims, to the injured and to their loved ones,” Macron wrote on Twitter, which is being rebranded as X.
Marot confirmed a total of 28 people had been inside at the time, with 11 initially reported as unaccounted for.
People on the ground floor were able to quickly leave the premises but not those upstairs, he said.
According to the fire department, the lodging was rented by an association in that helps people with learning difficulties. The traditional semi-timbered building was severely damaged by the fire, according to the firefighters.
At mid-morning, the firefighters were dousing the scene of the disaster with the help of fire hoses, an AFP photographer said.
Other firefighters were clearing wreckage away from the scene of the disaster with smoke still rising up.